With Kareem Hunt no longer with the team, Spencer Ware and Sammy Watkins sidelined, and Tyreek Hill banged up, there was doubt that the Chiefs could win this game and preserve their lead in the AFC West, which is something they've held all year. It quickly became clear that those concerns weren't warranted, as the Chiefs quickly opened up a double-digit lead over the Chargers, who appeared to lose this game because of mistakes and a major injury.
The Chiefs were able to take advantage of those errors. Philip Rivers opened with an interception on an underthrow toward Tyrell Williams, which was picked off by Steven Nelson. That turned into a quick touchdown, as Patrick Mahomes converted a pass in which he was pressured by three Chargers. He drifted back 15 yards in the pocket and found Ware's replacement, Damien Williams, for a first down. Mahomes finished the drive with a touchdown to Demarcus Robinson.
It seemed as though the Chargers would be able to tie the game at 14 just before halftime, as they took a drive that began their own 5-yard line into the red zone. However, another Rivers interception, made by Kendall Fuller, ended the drive. Meanwhile, the defense gave the Chiefs a first down on a very questionable Desmond King hold in the final quarter. The Chiefs were able to turn this into yet another touchdown, giving them a 28-14 lead.
The Chargers appeared to be dead, but they scored a touchdown and were able to force a punt, down seven, so they had one more shot. Another mistake occurred, as Rivers spent about 15 seconds complaining about a non-call on a helmet-to-helmet infraction that should've been flagged. Rivers finally realized what was happening and called a timeout with 13 seconds remaining, when there should've been about 25 ticks on the clock. One horrible call offset the other, as a phantom pass interference flag on the Chiefs, drawn by Mike Williams in the end zone, gave Kansas City a first-and-goal opportunity. Rivers found Williams in the end zone on the next play, though the catch should've been overturned because it was evident that Williams didn't have the ball secured prior to falling out of bounds. Replay review failed once again - Alberto Riveron must have been watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory this time - and the Chargers opted not to put Mahomes on the field again. They went for two, and Rivers found Williams in the end zone for the game-winning conversion.
This is the first time the Chargers have beaten the Chiefs since 2013. It's amazing how things have turned around for them. They've always been stricken with terrible luck and horrible kicking, but this season has been different. Anthony Lynn has changed everything, and Rivers has a legitimate chance to make his first trip to the Super Bowl as a result.
Rivers had a rough start to the game. He had the aforementioned initial interception on the underthrow, then was picked in the red zone. Rivers was nearly intercepted a third time in the second half because Travis Benjamin stopped the route.
Rivers overcame the early issues and was unstoppable in the fourth quarter. He finished 26-of-38 for 313 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. This truly could finally be his year.
I mentioned that the Chargers suffered a major injury. That was to Keenan Allen, who hurt his hip on a near-touchdown catch in the second quarter. Allen left the field for a while. He tried to play one snap, but it was obvious that he was in pain. Allen left the game for good without making a single reception. R.I.P. to fantasy owners who were counting on Allen in their playoff semi-finals.
With Allen sidelined, Mike Williams finally had his coming-out party. The No. 7 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has mostly been a disappointment thus far, but that was hardly the case in this game. He caught seven of his nine targets for 76 yards and two touchdowns, plus the reception on the two-point conversion. If Williams can continue this high level of play, and Allen turns out to be OK, the Chargers' offense will be absolutely lethal in the playoffs.
Oh, and don't forget Melvin Gordon. The talented back was out for this game, as was his backup, Austin Ekeler. Rookie Justin Jackson handled the majority of the workload, gaining 58 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. he also caught three passes for 27 receiving yards.
Some of the Chargers' other play-makers include Tyrell Williams, who hauled in six of his 12 targets for 71 yards, while Travis Benjamin (2-57) made both of his catches on the final drive, one of which moved the chains on a fourth-and-8. Antonio Gates (4-54) saw more targets than usual. Gates made a move on a 22-yard reception where he juked a defender like a spry 25-year-old.
As for the Chiefs, Mahomes made some special plays, some of which I detailed earlier. However, he was harassed quite often, resulting in some failed drives. The second half was problematic, as the Chiefs lost the yardage battle, 220-154. In addition to the poor pass protection, the Chiefs made some mistakes. Hill dropped a deep touchdown. A long Travis Kelce gain was negated by a Mitchell Schwartz hold. A nice Damien Williams run was nullified by yet another penalty. The Chiefs, up by double digits for most of the evening, had an opportunity to put this game away, but they just couldn't do it.
Mahomes finished 24-of-34 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He was inches shy of a rushing score on a sneak. He only made a couple of bad throws, so I wouldn't put this loss on him. His offensive line needs to step up in the playoffs. Also, Andy Reid needs to avoid calling timeouts to stop the clock for the opposing offense in 2-minute drills.
Damien Williams did his best Kareem Hunt impression. He led the Chargers in both rushing and receiving. He had some tough runs, picking up 49 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He also caught all six of his targets for 74 receiving yards. Williams is no Hunt, but he showed enough to warrant touches over Spencer Ware, who doesn't have the receiving prowess that Williams possesses.
Kelce, who had a big gain wiped out, was still second on the team in receiving with seven catches for 61 yards. Hill, meanwhile, logged just four catches for 46 yards. His night obviously wouldn't been much better had he not dropped the deep touchdown.
Texans 29, Jets 22
The Texans won by a touchdown, but this was not the most convincing victory. They trailed in the fourth quarter and had to scratch and claw their way to victory over a bad team. They prevailed, but this sort of result doesn't bode well for their chances to make a deep playoff run.
The issue is the offensive line. Deshaun Watson was pressured heavily, getting sacked six times. Some of that was on Watson for holding the ball too long, but his protection is awful. That's the reason why I've had the Texans on my NFL Overrated List for most of this season.
Despite the protection issues, however, Watson was able to engineer a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Hopkins drew a defensive holding penalty, then made a spectacular catch in the end zone. Hopkins was hurt on the play, however, and his teammates even had to carry him off the field. Hopkins returned to action for some running plays later, but he didn't have to do anythere there besides serve as a decoy, so it remains to be seen how healthy he'll be next week.
Watson had a nice stat line, failing to complete only six passes. He finished 22-of-28 for 294 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 26 yards on four scrambles. However, none of this means that Watson played well. He wasn't bad, but his pocket presence continued to be awful. He holds on to the ball way too long sometimes. This can be fixed, but Watson will need a better coaching staff. Bill O'Brien is a horrible coach and needs to be replaced as soon as possible before he completely ruins Watson's career. Unfortunately for Watson, Houston's great record this season means that the team won't be making a coaching change this offseason.
Hopkins was terrific. He caught a 45-yard touchdown bomb in the opening half, then snatched the decisive score with a couple of minutes of remaining. He also drew a key defensive hold, as mentioned earlier. He caught 10 of his 11 targets for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Hopkins is obviously one of the best receivers in the NFL, but he's not nearly the healthiest at the moment. He might have a tough time suiting up next week.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Demaryius Thomas trailed only Hopkins, snatching six of his eight targets for 59 yards. Hopkins, Thomas and DeAndre Carter (2-55) were the only Houston players with double-digit receiving yards.
Hopkins wasn't the only Texan play-maker to suffer an injury. Lamar Miller went down in the opening quarter with a foot injury. As a result, he was given just three carries, which he turned into eight yards. Alfred Blue proved to be a poor substitute, mustering only six yards on nine attempts.
As for the Jets, Sam Darnold had some nice moments in this game. He was remarkably clutch on third down, converting 9-of-17 attempts. One key conversion was a third-and-8 in the fourth quarter where Darnold scrambled away from pressure and found Chris Herndon to move across midfield. This set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Jets. Darnold, however, had some lowlights. He had Elijah McGuire open for an early touchdown, but didn't see him. He was also lucky not to be intercepted on one downfield throw in the fourth quarter.
Darnold finished 24-of-38 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He also used his legs well, out-rushing Watson, even. Darnold scrambled six times for 35 yards. One run picked up a big first down on a fourth-quarter drive. Despite a few mistakes, Darnold played very well, especially when considering the caliber of defense he was battling.
Robby Anderson was Darnold's favorite receiver. Anderson had a terrific game, save for one moment. He caught seven of the 11 balls thrown his way for 96 yards and a touchdown. He had a key gaffe, however, dropping Darnold's final pass in the fourth quarter. It was a fourth-and-14, and Anderson had to make a tough, leaping grab, but if he wants to be a No. 1 receiver, he needs to come up with a catch like that.
Excluding Anderson, four other Jets caught more than two passes: Herndon (3-53), McGuire (3-29), Trenton Cannon (3-24) and Andre Roberts (3-16). Roberts, whom color analyst Steve Mariucci inexplicably called a "heck of a player," hauled in Darnold's other touchdown.
McGuire and Cannon had the same amount of receptions, but the former had way more carries, 18-7. He outgained Cannon, 42-13, and he also scored once on the ground when the Jets pushed a big pile into the end zone. McGuire, however, had a key fumble in the opening half to set up a Houston touchdown, which turned out to be the difference in this game.
The Jets would have covered this seven-point spread if it wasn't for idiot kicker Jason Myers. Unfortunately, Myers inexplicably whiffed on two extra points to cost Jet bettors. Myers has kicked well this season, but it looks like he's finally regressing to the mean. Myers was run out of town in Jacksonville and Seattle in recent years, and I imagine the Jets will want to replace him at some point in 2019.
Browns 17, Broncos 16
The first year of the Case Keenum era is officially over. It might actually be the only year of the Keenum era in Denver, as it concluded with major disappointment. The Broncos spent $36 million on Keenum this offseason, and that has proven to be a massive waste of money.
Keenum's poor play was one of the two primary reasons why the Broncos lost this game. He made two killer mistakes, both of which were interceptions. The first occurred deep in Cleveland territory. Keenum panicked under pressure for some reason and launched a helpless pass toward the end zone, which was picked off. This negated at least three points. The second interception was another careless shot deep downfield. This transpired in his own territory this time, so the Browns were able to turn that give-away into seven points. Thus, if it weren't for Keenum's two picks, the Broncos may have won this game 19-10.
Keenum is a poor starting quarterback. He caught lightning in a bottle last year with the Vikings, as he had the luxury of throwing to two prolific receivers, all while a tremendous defense supported him. However, he has been exposed in Denver. Keenum would be a terrific backup in the NFL, but the Broncos need to replace him. Here are the 2019 NFL Draft Quarterback Prospect Rankings.
The second reason why the Broncos lost was because of the secondary. Already down Chris Harris, the Broncos lost three corners. Bradley Roby suffered a face laceration; Brandon Langley was concussed; and Jamar Taylor was ejected for throwing a punch. Denver's secondary struggled in the second half as a result of these departures. Baker Mayfield was 11-of-13 for 92 yards and a touchdown following intermission as a result, and that doesn't even include the countless defensive holding penalties the Browns drew on Denver's hobbled defensive backfield. The official could've tape recorded, "Before the pass, holding on the defense," given the number of times he made this announcement in this game.
Mayfield's overall numbers weren't very good, as he had a rough opening half following a quick, deep touchdown to Breshad Perriman. He finished 18-of-31 for 188 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which was a poor overthrow in field goal range. He also lost a fumble near midfield in the third quarter. Still, he prevailed in Denver, which is not an easy thing for a rookie quarterback to do against a defense led by Von Miller, who, by the way, became the Broncos' all-time leader in sacks with 98.
Mayfield's touchdowns went to Antonio Callaway (5-35) and Perriman (1-31). Believe it not, Callaway and Perriman were the Browns' second- and third-leading receivers, with Jarvis Landry leading the way with just three catches for 37 yards. David Njoku (3-30) was an even greater disappointment, given the terrific matchup.
Nick Chubb couldn't get going early, as he mustered only 23 yards in the opening half. However, he broke free for a 40-yard run late in the game to put him exactly at the century mark. He finished with 100 rushing yards on 20 carries, though his numbers could've been better, as he had a 35-yard run negated by a hold. He also took a loss on Cleveland's final offensive play when the Browns tried to convert a fourth-and-1 in the red zone. This was part of a confusing sequence in which the Browns drew Denver offside on a hard count, only to see interim head coach Gregg Williams negate a game-winning first down with an inexplicable timeout.
Going back to the Broncos, Keenum's final numbers were 31-of-48 for 257 yards and the two interceptions. He had what seemed like a third pick, as he threw right to Jamie Collins, but the Cleveland linebacker dropped the ball. Keenum had some nice conversions to move the chains at times, but most of the drives ended with punts, turnovers or field goals. Keenum, as mentioned earlier, just isn't good enough to lead an NFL team to the playoffs unless he's supported by elite play-makers and a top defense.
Phillip Lindsay was a major disappointment in this game. Battling one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, Lindsay face-planted, accumulating only 24 yards on 14 carries. He helped his PPR owners with four catches for 20 receiving yards, but much more was expected of him. Lindsay had a chance to move the chains in the red zone late in the game, but was stuffed on a third-and-1 pitch, prompting inept head coach Vance Joseph to try a field goal to trim the margin from 17-13 to 17-16. What Joseph didn't account for was his Keenum not being able to move the team into field goal range again. Joseph has proven to be an incompetent head coach and should be fired this offseason.
You'd think Courtland Sutton would've led the Broncos in receiving, but that was not the case, as the rookie was limited to just five catches for 42 yards. Tim Patrick (5-65) had the most receiving yards on the Broncos, though he dropped a pass in the red zone. DaeSean Hamilton (7-46) saw the most targets, 12. The pedestrian Keenum can only throw to the slot, which is where Hamilton plays. That would be the explanation for Hamilton's quality PPR numbers.
Falcons 40, Cardinals 14
Josh Rosen can't be fully judged yet. He doesn't have much experience, and his supporting cast is poor. However, he was battling one of the worst defenses in the NFL this week, so he was expected to at least have a respectable performance. Instead, Rosen did a face-plant in Atlanta, ruining any sort of chance the Cardinals had of winning this game.
The Cardinals jumped out to a 7-0 lead, as the Falcons were struggling to move the ball, but Rosen helped them out with three turnovers in the opening half. The first one wasn't his fault, as he heaved a pick-six off a deflection. The other two give-aways were definitely on Rosen, however. He was strip-sacked on a third-and-8, setting up a quick Atlanta touchdown. Rosen then fired another interception, which was a forced throw into tight coverage, giving the Falcons another score. Atlanta went into intermission up 26-7, as 20 of its points were the result of Rosen turnovers (it would've been 21, but the Falcons opted for a failed two-point conversion rather than an extra point.) Rosen, by that stage, had completed just half of his 14 pass attempts for just 96 yards.
Rosen finished 13-of-22 for 132 yards and the three turnovers. His completion percentage was enhanced by garbage time. Rosen was a complete train wreck. It took him what seemed like years to make decisions, which resulted in him taking unnecessary sacks and hits. He also opted to spin around and run backward in the pocket on a couple of occasions rather than stepping up into his throw. It looked like he had no idea how to play quarterback, so it wasn't a surprise that he failed to recognize where some blitzes were coming from. The Atlanta pass rush was heavy, but Rosen panicked or waited too long when he had a clean pocket.
Again, it's too early to make a definitive call on Rosen, but I was not a fan of him during the pre-draft process. Rosen lacks leadership and doesn't love football. No one should be surprised if he busts.
It's telling that Larry Fitzgerald, who has been productive with every terrible quarterback who has come through Arizona, hasn't been able to post quality numbers with Rosen. Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 82 yards in this game, which sounds good, but most of that came with Mike Glennon on the final drive. Fitzgerald had just two receptions by halftime. Rosen has somehow been worse than Max Hall and John Skelton for Fitzgerald, which is really saying something.
Excluding Fitzgerald and David Johnson, no Cardinal had more than 22 receiving yards. Trent Sherfield (3-15) caught a very late touchdown from Glennon.
Speaking of Johnson, he had an early touchdown, but wasn't able to run behind his terrible offensive line. He had just 33 yards on 11 carries, though he helped his PPR owners with three catches for 68 receiving yards.
The Falcons, meanwhile, needed an early boost from Rosen's turnovers because they weren't producing much offensively. That changed during the 2-minute drill just prior to intermission, and it carried into the second half. Arizona's poor tackling efforts certainly helped as well.
Matt Ryan finished 22-of-36 for 231 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing.) The numbers look fine, but they could've been better, as Austin Hooper dropped a touchdown. There was some sketchy play-calling in the red zone in the early going, but it didn't end up mattering. At least not for this game. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian still must be fired this offseason.
Ryan's touchdowns went to a likely target in Julio Jones (6-82) and an unexpected one in Justin Hardy (3-29). It's worth noting that Jones got dinged pretty badly in the second quarter and didn't receive a single target following halftime. Meanwhile, Calvin Ridley (5-42) and Mohamed Sanu (3-30) disappointed their fantasy owners. They saw seven and six targets, respectively, while Jones had eight. Ridley dropped a pass.
To detail how poorly the Cardinals tackled, Tevin Coleman, who has struggled all year in relief of the injured Devonta Freeman, rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Coleman could've had an even better stat line, as he had a long run in the second half negated by a hold.
Bills 14, Lions 13
The Bills answered the age-old question, "Can a team win if every single player at a position is injured?" That was the case in this game. The Bills entered already down LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory. They then lost their third- and fourth-string running backs, Marcus Murphy and Keith Ford. Receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who is also capable of running the ball, also got banged up.
Ford was ultimately able to return to action, but the Bills had to move their fullback Patrick DiMarco to tailback for a stretch. It was a mess, and for the longest time, it seemed like the Bills would lose this game. However, the Bills came through because of a botched extra point attempt by Detroit, a Josh Allen deep pass to Robert Foster, a missed 48-yard field goal by Lions kicker Matt Prater, and some clutch conversions on the final offensive drive to keep the ball away from Detroit.
Allen had an up-and-down performance. He completed just half of his passes, going 13-of-26 for 204 yards and a passing touchdown. He also scored on the ground. His aerial touchdown was a 42-yard bomb to Foster.
Allen had consistency issues with his accuracy - he missed out on a deep score - and for once, he didn't generate countless yardage on the ground, picking up "only" 16 yards on nine scrambles. This was a result of the Lions utilizing a spy on most plays. Allen also made the mistake of taking a sack to move out of field goal range. However, it's difficult to judge Allen now, given his offensive line woes and lack of play-making talent around him.
Foster understandably led the Bills in receiving with four grabs for 108 yards and the score. He also drew a deep pass interference to set up Allen's rushing touchdown. However, his five targets were fewer than the seven that McKenzie (6-53) and the six Zay Jones (1-11) saw.
Ford, as mentioned, was Buffalo's lone remaining running back once he was able to return to the field. He finished with 46 yards on 11 carries, while Murphy (11-35) saw an opportunity to prove himself wasted by an unfortunate circumstance.
As for the Lions, Matthew Stafford spent the afternoon limping around, tossing checkdowns and throwing desperation passes to Kenny Golladay, which the receiver converted. Golladay was spectacular, as his terrific stat line of seven catches for 146 yards doesn't even tell the whole story. Golladay made a 24-yard reception over a defender and wrestled the ball away from the Buffalo player, and then, on the same drive, hauled in a 40-yard bomb down the sideline over terrific cornerback Tre'Davious White. The Bills had no answer for Golladay, who is looking like he could be a borderline fantasy WR1 next year.
Stafford, meanwhile, is clearly not 100 percent. That was evident on the first drive when he made a great 20-yard connection to Golladay and was seen hobbling around after the play. Despite not being anywhere close to 100 percent, Stafford went 22-of-29 for 208 yards and a touchdown. He also had a potential interception that was dropped, and he overshot an open receiver on third down in the final quarter. There were too many instances where Stafford settled for checkdowns rather than trying a deep shot, and that's likely because he's suffering through multiple injuries.
Aside from Golladay, only one Lion accumulated more than 11 receiving yards. That was tight end Levine Toilolo (4-28). Andy Jones, who caught Stafford's lone touchdown, hauled in two passes for nine yards.
Kerryon Johnson was out, so Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and LeGarrette Blount split carries almost evenly. Blount wasted seven attempts, flopping forward for just nine yards (remember when the Lions insisted using him over Johnson?) Riddick was most productive, tallying 47 yards on eight attempts. Zenner found the end zone, tallying 45 yards on 10 tries.
Bengals 30, Raiders 16
It was clear what sort of game this was going to be when we saw an early sequence where Derek Carr was strip-sacked over midfield, only to see Jeff Driskel throw a weak floater into double coverage that was intercepted. That's exactly what this contest was all about, as it was a battle between a team with an inept quarterback in Driskel and a team that would be extremely flat following its "Super Bowl" victory over the Steelers last week.
It turned out that the inept quarterback predictably prevailed over the team that would be flat. Don't credit Driskel, though. Driskel had major accuracy problems throughout the afternoon, as he failed to complete half of his passes. That said, Driskel had a couple of nice completions, including a 21-yard connection to Tyler Boyd to set up a touchdown pass to the same receiver in the early going. Driskel also converted a second-and-17 with an accurate ball to C.J. Uzomah down the seam.
Driskel finished 14-of-33 for only 130 yards, one touchdown and the interception. He was better as a runner, scrambling seven times for 32 rushing yards. And when I say Driskel was "better as a runner," it wasn't even close. His passes were all over the place. He missed receivers left and right (mostly high), and there was once instance in which he had Boyd open for a touchdown, and he whiffed by about a mile. Boyd could do nothing but look up at the sky in frustration.
So, how did the Bengals win, you ask? One answer would be Joe Mixon, who took advantage of a terrific matchup. Mixon rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns. A bulk of this came on a 47-yard burst, and the drive was capped off by a touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 to put Cincinnati up 14-0. Mixon got dinged up in the third quarter and had to leave the field, but missed only a few minutes of game action. He returned to score his second touchdown.
While Boyd caught the earlier touchdown, and he also led the Bengals in receiving (4-38), he left the game early with an injury. Boyd is yet another Cincinnati play-maker who went down, leaving just Alex Erickson (3-23), Cody Core (1-10) and John Ross (1-16) as Driskel's top targets. Uzomah was actually second on the team in receiving even though he caught just one pass, a 27-yarder.
As for the Raiders, Derek Carr struggled to move the chains on third down, converting on just three of his 14 attempts. Part of this was the second reason the Bengals prevailed, which was pressure. Because he was missing three starting offensive linemen, Carr was constantly under pressure. Carr was also poor when trying to convert in the red zone, as some late opportunities deep in Cincinnati territory went awry. The Raiders, as mentioned, were flat after beating the Steelers, and the blocking was a serious problem.
Carr finished 21-of-38 for 263 yards and a touchdown, a 1-yarder to tight end Lee Smith. Jared Cook owners were undoubtedly upset by this. I know this because I am one of them. But blame Carr and his line more than Cook. Carr nearly threw a pick-six on his very first pass, but the Cincinnati defender dropped the ball.
Speaking of Cook, he was just fifth on the receiving list, catching only two passes for 23 yards. Jordy Nelson led the Raiders with six grabs for 88 yards. Half of that came on one catch in the second half, setting up a first-and-goal opportunity, but because of a false start, Oakland couldn't punch the ball into the end zone.
Doug Martin led the Raiders in rushing with 39 yards on nine carries. Jalen Richard, meanwhile, did all the work in the passing game, catching five balls for 67 receiving yards. Richard, however, lost a fumble to set up a Cincinnati touchdown.
Colts 23, Cowboys 0
This game meant absolutely nothing to the Cowboys, who are marooned in the third or the fourth seed. That, however, was lost on Jason Garrett, who fed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott early and often. Elliott had 16 touches in the opening half, as Garrett, showing his elite coaching prowess, desired to wear down his elite play-maker in a meaningless contest.
The Cowboys tried to win this game, yet still lost 23-0 because of key moments on fourth downs. That was evident early when the Colts blocked a field goal on Dallas' opening drive. It looked like the block was returned for a touchdown, but replay review ruled the Indianapolis player down by contact. Still, the Colts turned the opportunity into a touchdown, giving them a 7-0 lead. The next drive saw Elliott stuffed on a fourth-and-1. Elliott later converted another fourth-and-1, only to see Dak Prescott get sacked on a third down later on the drive to force a punt. That wasn't all, as a Dallas fourth-down conversion in the second half was negated by a Joe Looney holding call.
The Colts, meanwhile, were able to take advantage of these miscues. They shut out the Cowboys, keeping their playoff hopes alive.
Andrew Luck went 16-of-27 for 192 yards. The stat line doesn't look great, but Luck endured several drops by his receiving corps. He also had a 38-yard bomb to Eric Ebron negated by a Ryan Kelly hold. Luck and T.Y. Hilton also should've drawn a 25-yard pass interference call in the 2-minute drill just prior to intermission, but the officials inexplicably didn't throw a penalty flag, despite FOX color analyst Charles Davis fuming about it. This, by the way, was one of several horrible instances by an officiating crew that was incredibly inept this game. One involved Hilton, who was flagged for a taunting penalty even though a Dallas safety threw the ball at him after the play was over. I have no idea why the refs were so bad in this game. It's as if they showed up to the game completely drunk after tailgating in the parking lot.
Hilton, who should've drawn that interference flag, was questionable heading into this game, but played well despite the uncertainty about his availability. Hilton caught five of his eight targets for 85 yards. Perhaps his best play was a 37-yard sliding catch in the second half.
Aside from Hilton and Nyheim Hines (4-45), no Colt accumulated more than 16 receiving yards. Ebron was a huge disappointment. He caught only one pass for eight yards. Granted, he had a long reception wiped out by penalty, but he also dropped a ball.
While Luck didn't post pretty stats, Marlon Mack certainly did. Mack generated 139 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He was as great as those numbers say he was. He broke plenty of tackles and moved piles, looking like a franchise running back. It helped that Kelly, in his return, blasted open big running lanes for Mack. The only blemish Mack had in this contest was a lost fumble in the fourth quarter, but the Colts were up 23-0 at that point.
Going back to the Cowboys, Elliott, after 16 touches in the opening half, had only nine following intermission. Trailing, the Cowboys couldn't give Elliott as many carries as they wanted to. Elliott rushed for 87 yards on 18 carries, and he also caught seven of his eight targets for 41 receiving yards. Elliott looked great, but Garrett seriously needs to re-think his strategy of running his best player into the ground in a meaningless game.
Prescott, meanwhile, was 24-of-39 for 206 yards and an interception on a poor overthrow in the second half. He was nearly picked on a couple of other occasions. One was a throw behind Cole Beasley. Another saw rookie linebacker Darius Leonard nearly make the catch, but he was still able to make a geat pass break-up. Prescott, who overshot several receivers throughout the afternoon, should've thrown a touchdown, but fullback Jamize Olawale dropped the ball in the early going. Elliott was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 shy of the goal line on the very next play.
Amari Cooper was hot entering the weekend, but did very little in this game. He saw seven targets, but caught only four of them for 32 yards. He had two receptions negated by penalty, but neither went very far. He trailed Blake Jarwin (4-45) and Beasley (4-42) on the receiving list. Beasley left the contest with an injury, but didn't miss much action. Jarwin, meanwhile, had a key drop on a third down.
Vikings 41, Dolphins 17
This was no contest. The Dolphins played like a team that had an injured quarterback and a missing top defensive player, while the Vikings were able to take advantage, as their mediocre quarterback beat yet another poor opponent.
The Vikings established a quick 21-0 lead, as Kirk Cousins completed his first eight passes because of a depleted secondary. Cousins couldn't be stopped, while Dalvin Cook picked up some big gains on the ground. It looked like the Vikings would win this game rather easily, but Cousins allowed the Dolphins to creep back into the game with a pick-six. Dolphins rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick read Cousins' eyes and snatched the interception easily. The Dolphins were actually able to draw to within 21-17 - and it would've been tied at 21 had Danny Amendola not dropped a pass near the goal line - but the Vikings ultimately established control, as Miami couldn't sustain drives because of Ryan Tannehill's injury.
Cousins finished 14-of-21 for 215 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The stat line isn't bad, but it was disappointing after Cousins had such a hot start. As mentioned, he hit his first eight passes, and he was 10-of-14 for 124 yards, one touchdown and his pick-six by halftime. That means he was just 4-of-7 for 91 yards and a score following intermission. Cousins did some sketchy things at times, including throwing a 4-yard pass in the red zone on a third-and-6 and overshooting Kyle Rudolph (3-23) for what should've been a 23-yard touchdown. Cousins still appears to be a colossal overpay, but he had the luxury of battling a secondary that isn't nearly the same without its top cornerback, Xavien Howard.
The Dolphins needed Howard to play in this game because they didn't have anyone to cover Stefon Diggs without him. Diggs, as a result, led all Minnesota wide receivers with 49 yards. He caught seven passes, one of which was a touchdown. Aldrick Robinson (2-44) also caught a touchdown. Adam Thielen, conversely, barely did anything. He caught both of his targets for 19 yards, as he had to go against Fitzpatrick in the slot.
As mentioned, Cook picked up big chunks of yards. He gashed Miami's poor run defense, tallying 136 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. His only blemish was a drop. Latavius Murray (15-68) also scored.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, not only lost this game, but also saw a potential Hall of Famer suffer an injury. Frank Gore got hurt while down 21-0. As a result, Gore finished with just five carries for 14 yards. One would think Kenyan Drake would have shouldered the bulk of the carries, but he had just one attempt for six yards. Rookie Kalen Ballage, who looked terrific in the preseason, took over for the injured Gore and ran for 123 yards and a 75-yard touchdown on 12 carries. With Gore's status unknown, Ballage should be added in all fantasy leagues, if only to prevent someone else from using him.
Speaking of injured Dolphins, Tannehill is clearly not right. He hobbled through last week's game, and he failed to complete half of his passes in this contest, going 11-of-24 for 108 yards. Part of the problem was the pressure; he was sacked a ridiculous nine times. Still, he missed open receivers throughout the afternoon. Here are the 2019 NFL Draft Quarterback Prospect Rankings for the Dolphins to consider, as Tannehill definitely should not be the starter next year.
Miami's leading receiver happened to be Amendola (3-30), who had the aforementioned drop at the 1-yard line. He saw eight targets. Drake, despite not getting any work on the ground, was next on the receiving list with three grabs for 28 yards.
Titans 17, Giants 0
There was a report prior to this game that the Giants were considering bringing back Eli Manning for 2019. After this ugly defeat, they better re-think that strategy. Manning, whom I've described as an old dog that needs to be put down, was especially atrocious in this game. This should not have been any sort of a surprise, as Manning was battling a good defense without his best receiver in a torrential downpour, but this game still illustrated how horrible of a quarterback he is at the moment.
Manning buried his team with horrible mistakes. He nearly threw a pick-six, and likely would have if the defender were looking, as Manning fired the ball right to the Titan in question. Manning had a dropped pick in his own territory in the second quarter. He was actually intercepted later near the red zone on a poor read. And if that wasn't enough, Manning was strip-sacked in his own territory, setting up a score for Tennessee. For those keeping track, that's at least a 13-point swing in what was a tight, defensive struggle.
The Titans, meanwhile, fed Derrick Henry the ball early and often. Henry actually had 13 more runs than Marcus Mariota had passes, and understandably so. It was a deluge in New Jersey, as both teams committed numerous drops because of the unfavorable conditions.
Henry was the better running back on the field in this game, as he nearly became the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances. Henry bulldozed the Giants for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 33 attempts. Henry broke countless tackles, as the Giants showed very little effort on this side of the ball.
Mariota didn't have to throw very much because he never trailed. It was apparent early that airing it out would be a chore, as Taywan Taylor dropped a ball on third down, forcing the Titans into a 48-yard field goal that was missed because of the wind.
As a result of the Titans keeping the ball on the ground, Mariota threw just 20 times. He completed 12 of those passes for only 88 yards. Mariota didn't run the ball very much either, scrambling five times for only 10 rushing yards.
Thanks to the conditions, all of the Tennessee receiving numbers were suppressed. Corey Davis led the way with three grabs for 33 yards. Dion Lewis, who had seven carries for 35 rushing yards, tied for the team lead in receptions (3), but for only nine yards.
Moving on to the Giants, they simply didn't give their best effort in this game. Perhaps this was because of the weather, or the nature of Tennessee's hard hitting, but they looked like they didn't want to be on the field with Tennessee. In addition to the missed tackles and countless drops, there was one instance that epitomized how unfocused they were. A special-teamer caught a punt at the Tennessee 10-yard line. He then happily jogged into the end zone for what would be ruled a touchback when the ball should've been ruled dead at the 10.
I touched on Manning earlier. He failed to complete half of his passes, going 21-of-44 for 229 yards. The weather, lethargy and absence of Odell Beckham all played a factor, but Manning is simply just an awful quarterback at this stage of his overrated career. If the Giants decide that bringing Manning back for 2019 is a good idea, everyone who's a part of that strategy must be fired immediately because they can't be trusted to make good choices in the future.
The Titans didn't have to worry about Beckham, so they were able to key in on Saquon Barkley. The dynamic rookie was limited to just 31 yards on 14 carries. He saw 10 targets, but caught just four of them for 25 receiving yards. He also dropped a pass.
With Beckham out, Evan Engram led the Giants in receiving with eight catches for 75 yards. He saw 12 targets. Sterling Shepard saw nine balls go his way, but caught just two balls for 37 yards. One misfire was a deep drop on the Giants' first offensive drive. He continued to be a major disappointment.
Redskins 16, Jaguars 13
The Redskins are still somehow alive in the playoff chase. They won to improve to 7-7, so they're just a half a game behind the Vikings for the sixth seed in the playoffs. Except, they're down to their fourth-string quarterback, so how alive are they, really?
Well, laugh about Josh Johnson all you want, but he was not the worst quarterback on the field in this game. Johnson didn't make any mistakes to cost the Redskins, save for taking a sack to move out of field goal range. He was otherwise relatively accurate, including one pass where he fit in a slant through a tight window to Michael Floyd on third down to set up a field goal. Johnson was also able to use his legs to pick up some first downs.
Johnson finished 16-of-25 for 151 yards and a touchdown, and he also scrambled nine times for 49 rushing yards. Johnson is a smart quarterback with mobility. He's had accuracy issues in the past, but perhaps he has fixed those problems. Regardless, he's a much better option than Mark Sanchez and really any other quarterback on the open market, so the Redskins will move forward with Johnson as they try to make an inexplicable march into the playoffs.
Adrian Peterson out-rushed Leonard Fournette, which was not expected entering this contest. However, this was because Peterson had eight more carries. Peterson tallied 51 yards on 19 attempts, while Fournette generated 46 yards on just 11 totes. Fournette also caught three passes for 18 receiving yards. Jacksonville should normally be criticized for not getting Fournette involved enough, but there's no reason to run him into the ground in a meaningless game. Perhaps that's why Fournette didn't touch the ball in the third quarter.
Jamison Crowder led the Redskins in receiving, catching all four targets for 46 yards. His big play was a 33-yarder that came on a deflection. He was the only Washington player with more than 20 receiving yards. Jeremy Sprinkle (3-19) caught Johnson's sole touchdown.
Discussing the Jaguars quickly, Cody Kessler was a train wreck. He barely completed half of his passes, going just 9-of-17 for 57 yards and an interception, which ended up costing the Jaguars the game. This pick occurred in field goal range with a few minutes remaining. The Redskins took over in a tied affair, and thanks to some big Peterson gains, they moved into field goal range and drilled the winning kick.
In addition to Kessler's poor passing day, he also lost a fumble. Hilariously, he led the Jaguars in rushing, thanks to six scrambles for 68 yards. Kessler is far worse than Blake Bortles, but the Jaguars don't want to be stuck paying Bortles in the wake of an injury, so Kessler should start the final two games. His presence also gives Jacksonville the best chance to improve its draft standing.
Jacksonville had just two players with double digit receiving yards: Dede Westbrook (3-21) and Fournette. Westbrook scored on a punt return.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Someone needs to tell football players when to tackle a player late in games. The Buccaneers were insanely stupid for bringing down Gus Edwards on the final play from scrimmage. Had they let him score, they would've had a chance to get a win with two touchdown drives with a couple of minutes remaining. That would've been unlikely, but the alternative would be to tackle Edwards, which ended the game right on the spot. Hey, football players, don't tackle a player if it's going to end the game!
The Ravens avoided a trap game with a home win in soggy Baltimore to stay in the AFC North race and maintain possession of the final wild-card spot. Tampa Bay fell to 5-9 and secured its eighth losing season in the past decade. For more on the state of the Buccaneers franchise, why they should fire their general manager, and digging into their incompetent ownership, check out Dec. 17's version of Monday Morning Draft.
The first quarter started sloppy, with Jameis Winston having some accurate perfect passes dropped by the likes of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate. Throughout the game, the Buccaneers dropped a shocking amount of passes. The Ravens were sloppy as well, as they had a drive at midfield, but a fumbled snap was recovered by Lavonte David. The Bucs' receivers finally helped their quarterback when Evans hauled in a 23-yard pass. A chunk run by Peyton Barber soon set up a first-and-goal, and Barber finished the drive with a run through a few Ravens to put Tampa Bay up 6-0. The extra point hold was botched by Bucs punter Bryan Anger.
Baltimore went to the ground game with Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson to move the ball into Buccaneers territory. Willie Snead (5-58) got wide open for a 14-yard reception before Jackson converted a fourth-and-1, and finally, a shovel pass jet sweep to Chris Moore to take the lead. With Baltimore in front of the Buccaneers, 7-6, Winston made a great throw, lofting in a 64-yard pass to Evans that led to a field goal. Jackson then led a field goal drive to put the Ravens up 10-9 at halftime.
Jackson made a well-located throw in the third quarter to Mark Andrews for 17 yards and then used his legs to set up a 10-yard touchdown run from Gus Edwards. Ravens punt returner Cyrus Jones made a huge mental mistake by touching a rolling punt, and the Buccaneers recovered the live ball at the Ravens' 14. Tampa Bay, however, only got a field goal out of the golden opportunity. Baltimore's special teams bounced back by returning the ensuing kickoff to midfield. That ended up in a Ravens field goal. Later, Winston had a pass flutter short of Evans, and it was picked off by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey to essentially put down Tampa Bay. Baltimore's rushing offense put the game away to clinch the win.
Lamar Jackson completed 14-of-23 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown. He also ran for 95 yards on 18 carries. Edwards ran for 104 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
Winston was 13-of-25 for 157 yards and an interception, as he was hurt by lots of drops. Evans caught four passes for 121 yards.
Peyton Barber ran for 85 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown.
Defensively, Lavonte David was superb for the Bucs, recording 12 tackles with two sacks, one tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Congratulations to the Bears for winning the NFC North! And congratulations to Bears bettors for withstanding a possible back-door cover from Aaron Rodgers! It was very stressful late in the game, but Rodgers somehow didn't deliver the ball into the end zone. That alone shows that he's not fully healthy.
The NFL's oldest rivalry was renewed at Soldier Field with the two storied franchises currently going in opposite directions. Chicago clinched its first division title since 2010 and ended its five-game losing streak to arch rival Green Bay. The Bears secured a home playoff game as their tough defense slammed the door on Aaron Rodgers. Chicago got enough offense through its variety of weapons. For years, the Packers fielded a far more talented team, but the tables have turned as clearly they were overmatched on both sides of the ball. This is going to be a critical offseason for Green Bay to add talent if the team is ever going to challenge for another Super Bowl during the sunset years of Rodgers' career.
After trading punts late in the first quarter, the Bears got the scoring started with a drive moving down the field that spread the ball around. It ended with Jordan Howard running untouched into the end zone from nine yards. Rodgers soon took advantage of some good field position with passes to Davante Adams and Lance Kendricks to grab three points for Green Bay. Late in the first half, Chicago got into Green Bay territory with a 22-yard run by Tarik Cohen, and the drive ended with a checkdown to Cohen, who darted into the end zone from 12 yards to leap over the pylon. That gave the Bears a 14-3 lead at halftime.
To start the third quarter, Rodgers put together a field goal drive to trim Chicago's lead to eight. A failed fake punt set up the Packers near midfield, and on the ensuing drive, Adams came up with a superb 28-yard reception that helped set up a short rushing touchdown for Jamaal Williams (12-55-1). Adams then caught the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
The Bears moved into Green Bay territory, but Cohen botched a zone-read exchange at the mesh point with Jordan Howard to fumble the ball away. But Leonard Floyd got another sack of Rodgers to force a punt, and Chicago moved down the field before Mitchell Trubisky found Trey Burton (4-36-1) for a 13-yard touchdown. Cohen had a 44-yard punt return to set up another Chicago field goal. Rodgers later hit Adams for 28 yards and Randall Cobb (3-30) for 16 yards to move into Chicago territory, but Eddie Jackson intercepted Rodgers to kill that scoring opportunity. In the final seconds, Rodgers led a drive into Chicago territory, but a Floyd sack forced a field goal. The Bears then recovered the onside kick to clinch the division title.
Rodgers finished 25-of-42 for 274 yards and an interception. It might make sense for the Packers to shut down the banged-up veteran over the final two games to ensure their franchise quarterback will be healthy for a critical offseason with a new coaching staff.
Adams caught eight passes for 119 yards, continuing his career year.
Trubisky was 20-of-28 for 235 yards with two touchdowns. Allen Robinson led the Bears through the air with three receptions for 54 yards.
Howard led the Bears on the ground with 60 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
The Bears' defense was superb against Green Bay. Leonard Floyd was phenomenal with two sacks, two tackles for a loss and six tackles. Khalil Mack (2.5 sacks) and Roquan Smith (10 tackles) also played really well for Chicago.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Fixed game? The Patriots were flagged for 14 penalties, while the Steelers had just four. Vegas stood to lose lots of money had the Patriots won, so if you're going to rig a game, you're going to ask an official to throw flags for holding penalties, since holds can be called on every single play. I actually think that's why holding penalties were implemented in the first place!
The Steelers came into this game having lost three games in a row. It was a stretch that bottomed out last week when they lost to the lowly Raiders. With a game in New Orleans next week, the Steelers were in must-win territory to even keep their playoff hopes alive when the Patriots came to town.
New England came into this game after losing a heart-breaker in Miami, which you might have seen, but was still only one game back of Kansas City for the No. 1 seeding. The Steelers probably had more of a sense of urgency, but the Patriots needed this game as well, as playing in Foxborough is difficult to say the least.
The over/under of this game was a lofty 56 points, but both defenses made themselves heard with timely interceptions, while strong running games kept the clock moving. The strongest rushing attack came from the Steelers rookie back Jaylen Samuels. A project who was more of a hybrid fullback/tight end at N.C. State, Samuels picked up big gains each time he touched the ball. With no Le'Veon Bell or James Conner, the rookie picked up the mantle and rushed 19 times for 142 yards and caught his two targets for 30 yards. I think I see why the Steelers didn't want to pay top-dollar for a position they seem to be able to find production from fairly easily.
While the Steelers were running with ease, the Patriots also put up good yardage on the ground, as they averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but their offense was often in the hole with false start penalties. The Patriots averaged more yards per play than the Steelers and Tom Brady was sacked just once, but penalties and a costly interception kept them down just enough.
On the first five drives of this game, there were three touchdowns, two for the Steelers and one for the Patriots. It appeared the over was in jeopardy, but after that third touchdown, a 17-yard pass to Antonio Brown early in the second quarter, no more touchdowns were scored, with the teams trading field goals in the second half.
That first barrage by the Steelers ended up holding up, as Roethlisberger hit Vance McDonald and Brown for touchdowns, and then Samuels picked up the slack after Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, both coming at midfield and stalling promising drives. The second was especially tough for the Steelers, as they had just given up a field goal and were up by just four points.
Brady and company drove down field with relative ease and had first-and-goal at the Steelers' 5-yard line, but an offensive holding call moved them back to the 15-yard line and Brady let go an up-for-grabs punt-pass with pressure in his face, which Joe Haden intercepted on a great play, likely winning the game.
The Steelers blew leads in the fourth quarter of their previous two games, and after losing to the Patriots in their last five matchups, usually in similarly big games, the Patriots were bound to make a run at closing their seven-point fourth-quarter deficit, which they did in short order on the last drive of the game. Brady hit Julian Edelman for a 34-yard gain right out of the 2-minute warning and then hit James White for three quick receptions down to the Steelers 11-yard line. Another holding penalty, however, backed New England up, and from 21 yards out, Brady threw three straight incompletions, with little chance of connecting.
In the end, Samuels' running, the Patriots' uncharacteristic penalties and Haden's interception, ended up as the biggest factors in this game. Both teams are still squarely in the playoff race, with the Patriots holding on to the No. 3 seed and the Steelers with the No. 4.
New England has two home games against teams with losing records, the Bills and Jets, so their seeding is likely to only stay the same or move up, while the Steelers go to New Orleans and then come back home against the Bengals. Steelers fans will root hard for the Chargers to beat the Ravens next week, as the Steelers' chances against the Saints in New Orleans are 50/50 at best, and if the Ravens win out, they would take the Steelers' spot in the playoffs.
49ers 26, Seahawks 23
It didn't appear as though either team wanted to win this game in the fourth quarter. For every drop by a San Francisco player, there was a holding call whistled on Seattle. The Seahawks' woes continued into overtime, as a deep Russell Wilson completion to move toward midfield was negated by a hold. This forced a punt, which the 49ers took advantage of. Rather than yet another drop, there was a long pass interference flag called to move the 49ers into Seattle territory. This helped set up the game-winning field goal, which San Francisco converted to move out of the Nick Bosa sweepstakes.
The 49ers' victory is more harmful than helpful, while Seattle's defeat was almost irrelevant. The Seahawks could have clinched a playoff berth with a win, but they'll be able to do that with a victory in one of their final two games instead. This loss just means that they'll have to keep their starters on the field at least one more week.
Russell Wilson completed most of his passes, going 23-of-31 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson helped his team accumulate more yardage and win the time-of-possession battle, but the offensive line sabotaged a potential victory with countless holding penalties. The Seahawks were whistled for a ridiculous 14 infractions, compared to eight for San Francisco.
It was unclear if Doug Baldwin would be able to play. Not only did he suit up; he had a terrific fantasy stat line. He caught four passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Lockett (2-45) hauled in a 28-yard pass on the opening drive, but barely did anything otherwise.
With Rashaad Penny out and Mike Davis hurt, Chris Carson handled most of the workload. Carson did well, rushing for 119 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He also caught all six of his targets for 29 receiving yards. Davis was a big factor as a receiving back before going down. Davis caught all eight of the passes thrown to him for 63 receiving yards.
As for the 49ers, I mentioned how they dropped countless passes. Well, it couldn't have been more than nine because that's how many misfires Nick Mullens had, as Mullens went 20-of-29 for 275 yards and a touchdown. However, two drops ruined a couple of drives in the fourth quarter, as Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor both had the ball fall through their hands. George Kittle also dropped a back-shoulder catch, though it would've been a very difficult reception to make.
Mullens played well overall. He struggled a bit early when he missed Kittle twice in the first 20 minutes, with one of the misfires being a potential long touchdown. However, Mullens was otherwise accurate again, and his performances of late has shown the league that he can be a high-caliber backup in the pros.
Speaking of Kittle, he missed out on having a huge performance. He caught three passes for 51 yards, but the afternoon could've been so much better. As mentioned, he dropped a pass, while Mullens should've hit him for two significant gains, one of which looked like a 65-yard touchdown.
Elsewhere in the 49ers' receiving corps, rookie Dante Pettis continued to impress, catching all five of his targets for 83 yards. That includes a diving 30-yard reception. Garrett Celek (2-61) snatched Mullens' sole touchdown. Marquise Goodwin returned to action, but caught only one pass for seven yards.
Matt Breida also took the field after a lengthy absence. He received most of the workload, gaining 50 yards on 17 carries. Jeff Wilson was also mixed in - 46 yards on seven attempts - but he lost a fumble in the opening half.
Eagles 30, Rams 23
The Eagles returned to the scene of the crime, where nearly one year ago, they lost Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury. That was the first game Nick Foles would be forced into action, beginning his inexplicable Super Bowl run. It's a crazy coincidence that Foles was once again thrust into the lineup because of a Wentz injury in Los Angeles. The Eagles, rekindling the special energy they developed with Foles last year, brought out their underdog masks, as the Rams were favored by two touchdowns.
It's only one game, but it's appearing as though the Eagles are repeating what they did last year. They won outright in Los Angeles, and it wasn't even close for most of the night. They led 30-13 at one point before they took their foot off the gas. The Rams made it close with a couple of scores, but they ultimately stalled at the Philadelphia 18.
Save for a couple of mistakes, Foles was spectacular in this contest. He overshot an open Zach Ertz for a touchdown early in the game, and he fired an interception in the red zone, up 30-13 with 14:09 remaining to give the Rams some momentum, but he otherwise had a terrific performance.
Foles misfired on just seven attempts, going 24-of-31 for 270 yards and an interception. He made a big third-down conversion to Alshon Jeffery after the Rams were over-confident in stopping the clock prior to halftime in an attempt to get the ball back. This set up a touchdown. Foles also connected with Jeffery on a 49-yard bomb in the third quarter, which led to another red-zone trip for the Eagles. Foles may not be the most talented quarterback in the NFL, but he's a great leader who inspires confidence from his teammates. The Eagles believe they can do anything with Foles at the helm, so they can't be counted out to make a deep playoff run.
Jeffery had a huge game. He caught all eight of his targets for 160 yards, though he didn't find the end zone. Jeffery, Golden Tate (5-43) and Ertz (3-22) were the only Eagles who had more than 20 receiving yards. Ertz, as mentioned earlier, should've scored a touchdown.
Two Eagles found the end zone. One was Josh Adams, who was limited to 28 yards on 15 carries. The other was Wendell Smallwood, who scored twice. He gained 48 yards on 10 attempts.
As for the Rams, they could be in serious trouble. They're still the No. 2 seed, but if they lose one more game, and Chicago wins out, the Bears will leap up to the second seed. Making matters worse, Todd Gurley got hurt in this game. Gurley missed most of the third quarter. He was able to return to the field, but spent most of the time limping around. If he's not 100 percent in the playoffs, the Rams will be in big trouble.
Gurley, by the way, scored twice. His rushing numbers (12-48) weren't very good, but he caught 10 of his 13 targets for 76 receiving yards. He had a drop, however. More importantly, he's hurt, so it'll be interesting to see if he misses the all-important Week 16 for fantasy players.
The pressure Jared Goff saw was a big reason why the Rams lost this game. The Eagles hit Goff on nearly every play, and he looked rattled during certain stages of the evening. He threw two interceptions, one of which occurred when he panicked under pressure.
Goff's overall numbers look pretty, going 35-of-54 for 339 yards and the two picks. However, much of that came when the Eagles were up 30-13. Goff had just 136 yards and a pick at halftime. Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett were breathing down his neck all night.
Goff spread the ball around very well, as five Rams saw at least seven targets. They were Gurley, Robert Woods (7-74), Josh Reynolds (5-70), Brandin Cooks (6-59) and Gerald Everett (5-46). None of them scored, but Everett should have. Goff missed him in the end zone.
Saints 12, Panthers 9
With Cam Newton reeling from a severe shoulder injury that he suffered in Tampa two weeks ago, the Saints should've demolished the Panthers. They won easily on the stat sheet. They prevailed in time of possession by 11 minutes. They had more first downs, 21-13. They outgained the Panthers by nearly 100 net yards, 346-247, and they averaged more yards per play, 5.0-4.3. In fact, outside of one trick play on a fourth down where Christian McCaffrey threw a touchdown pass to someone named Chris Manhertz, the Panthers didn't produce a single offensive point in this game.
So, what happened? The Saints simply got in their own way. Drew Brees threw an interception right before halftime on a tip by tight end Dan Arnold. Two deep completions to Michael Thomas were nullified by penalty. Ben Watson and Tre'Quan Smith dropped passes. A Brees two-point conversion attempt was intercepted for a pick-two by Donte Jackson. And most painful of all, the Saints were in the red zone at the very end and had a chance to get the cover with a touchdown or a push with a field goal. Someone named Tommy Lee Lewis was given the ball and leapt toward the pylon, but fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone. It was a touchback, ruining the night for Saint bettors. Despite New Orleans outgaining the Panthers by a wide margin in every category, Saints -6 was a loser, thanks in major part to this Tommy Lee Lewis character thinking that he was Superman when he really just super sucks.
Brees didn't play up to his ability either in this game. He was a largely disappointing 23-of-35 for 203 yards and an interception. That's six fantasy points. Brees murdered many fantasy players tonight, including a frequent poster on my Facebook wall who lost because of Brees' kneel-downs at the end. Unreal.
Brees' pick wasn't his fault, and there were some completions that were negated by penalty, but he didn't play well. For some reason, he was hesitant to throw into Carolina's atrocious secondary. He saw a good deal of pressure, but this sort of matchup shouldn't have been any sort of problem for him. I'd say it wouldn't bode well for the future, but he'll be playing in a dome the rest of the way, barring disaster.
Thomas, as mentioned, had some completions ruined by penalties. He still managed to lead the team in receiving, catching seven of his nine targets for 49 yards, but he should've had a much better night.
Elsewhere in the Saints' receiving corps, Keith Kirkwood was next on the list with just two grabs for 40 yards. Watson (1-28) and Tre'Quan Smith (2-15) both dropped balls, as mentioned. Smith has been a huge disappointment after flashing earlier in the year.
Alvin Kamara had the Saints' lone touchdown. He was a bright spot, rushing for 67 yards on 14 carries, and he also caught seven of his nine targets for 36 receiving yards. Mark Ingram (12-63) ran well, too.
The Panthers, meanwhile, made some mistakes as well. Newton took a sack on the opening drive because of a botched snap. He threw an interception in the red zone, as Eli Apple inexplicably had perfect coverage on the play to get the pick. D.J. Moore lost a fumble at the end of a rare carry. However, the real reason the Panthers failed to do anything offensively all night is because of Newton's shoulder.
It's very evident that Newton's not right. He missed badly on throws he'd normally make in his sleep. Newton, as a result, went just 16-of-29 for only 131 yards and the interception. Reporters asked Ron Rivera in the post-game press conference if he would shut down Newton for the rest of the year with the playoffs no longer a possibility, but Rivera said that he wouldn't do that.
Aside from Manhertz on that one trick play, no Panther rusher or receiver accumulated more than 22 yards in either department, save for McCaffrey. He gained 53 yards on 15 carries and also reeled in eight of his 11 targets for 67 receiving yards.
Save for McCaffrey and Manhertz, Carolina's leading receiver was Jarius Wright (3-21). Samuel (1-17) and Moore (2-12) both struggled because of Newton's issues.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.